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East County Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009 12 years ago

Families challenge verdict

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — The perpetrators in a fight at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA’s Fifth Quarter event last month say the YouTube video of the skirmish does not tell the whole story.

Lakewood Ranch resident Jacques Panet-Raymond says his son, Luc, was acting in self-defense, and he may sue Manatee County Public Schools for failing to conduct a proper investigation.

He and one other family claim the alleged “victim” instigated the fight and had threatened Luc with a knife before Luc knocked him to the ground to protect himself and a friend.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has recommended battery charges for Luc and the other assailant in the video to the state attorney’s office. Panet-Raymond filed a counter claim of assault against the alleged victim after hearing his son’s story.

“It’s not about the money,” Panet-Raymond said of a potential lawsuit in which he would seek just $1. “It’s for a failure to do a proper investigation. I could understand how you could make that decision when you see the video without any knowledge of what happened before that. But once he’s assaulted, he’s in a position to defend himself. They’ve made this decision without really investigating, although they claim to investigate.

“It’s not about sending somebody else away,” he added. “It’s about my son’s reputation. It’s about getting the real story out there so they find out how this (was) skewed on YouTube.”

Luc, 12, was removed from Nolan Middle School Oct. 2, a week after the fight and several days after the victim’s mother filed battery charges against Luc and the other assailant in the video. The sheriff’s office report states the mother did not file a report the day of the incident with deputies present but came in after her child learned the fight had been posted on YouTube. Photos of his injuries were taken at that time.

Additionally, a few days after the fight, the victim and one other youth from the school claimed Luc had been bullying them. Luc said he’d never met the victim before the night of the fight and has never met the other student at all.

Luc, an honor student, is attending Imagine School instead of taking a reassignment to Horizon’s, the district’s alternative school.
The other side
Luc’s friend, Anthony Lanza, said he met the victim about a week before the Fifth Quarter event, while walking home from school with a friend. Upon introduction, Anthony said he called the victim “Camera,” which he thought was a nickname. Instead, the victim began to curse at him and asked for a fight.

Anthony and his friend walked away. But a week later at the Fifth Quarter event, the victim approached Anthony, asking for a fight. At 5-foot-5, Luc stepped in to defend his friend, who stands only 4-foot-5 in the seventh grade, and the two skirmished beside a Dumpster so no one could see.

“I was kind of wrestling,” Luc said. “He was pulling my hair and then he punched me, and I punched him back. Then, I walked away.”

He and the other boys did not tell YMCA staff or sheriff’s deputies of the tussle.

“I was just trying to get away from (the victim),” Luc said. “I didn’t want to ruin my night. I hoped if I walked away, he would leave me alone.”

But the fight wasn’t over, the boys said. Then, the victim followed them inside, continuing to harass them and asking to “finish the fight.”

Luc, Anthony and Anthony’s stepbrother, Shane Ashby, finished their kickball game and headed outside.

“Everybody was outside by the bike racks,” Luc said. “I was keeping my distance.”

Anthony and Shane said they saw the victim spit on another child before he headed down an alley, pounding his fists and making more threats as he waited to finish his fight with Luc.

Then, Anthony said he told an older friend, a high school student, what was happening. That student approached the victim and told the victim to pick on him instead of Anthony.

Anthony, Shane and several other boys also say they heard the victim say, “I have a knife. I’m going to stab Luc.”

Luc did not hear the comment, but when he learned about it and saw another student was ready to fight the victim, he said he became afraid for his safety and lunged from the side.

“I thought he was going to stab Chase or something, so I tackled him,” Luc said.  “I immediately got up, but (the victim) was grabbing onto me.”

While Luc had the victim pinned to the ground, the other assailant punched the victim several times. He even hit the back of Luc’s arm.

“I think Luc stuck up for me — and Chase,” Luc said. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten beaten up.”

Luc did not tell his father the real story about the scratches on his face until showing him the YouTube video several days after the fight. Anthony and Shane told their parents details when pressed for the truth.

Parents were skeptical until all the details came out, and the boys corroborated one another’s stories independently.

“I first learned about the knife comment from Shane,” their father Steve Ashby said. “If it doesn’t help the situation (to tell their story), I wanted people to know.”

Luc also said he did not immediately tell school officials, who questioned him after the incident, about the details of the fight and the incident with the knife because he did not realize the severity of the information, and he did not want to “tell on” the other student.

But all three boys — Anthony, Shane and Luc — said they are ready to testify in court as to the truth of their accounts, knowing failing to do so would send them to juvenile detention.
No changes
Despite their story, district officials said they stand by their decision.

Mike McCann, the school district’s head of discipline, said he and other district officials are not convinced they should change their decision, although they do recognize the fight was not staged for the camera and the boys are not part of any gang as has been reported.

“We are holding firm to on the actions we have taken at this point,” McCann said. “We are always open to review.”

McCann said his decision to remove Luc from Nolan was based on reports from school administrators and staff, who interviewed the students involved, as well as a parent liaison.

Since then, he and Superintendent Tim McGonegal have reviewed video accounts of Luc, Anthony and Shane’s versions of the story, which were produced by Luc’s father McCann said.

Although the youth said the victim claimed to have a knife and threatened to use it on Luc, McCann said there is no evidence of the victim reaching for a knife in the YouTube video.

Furthermore, regardless of the threat of a knife, the victim was attacked two-on-one with no apparent reason, he said.

“The decision was based on the attack,” McCann said. “I don’t have anything else to go on. Even if the perpetrators are saying the (victim) had threatened them with a knife, they should have contacted the police department. The perpetrators still have a responsibility for what they did.”

McCann said the district’s decision to remove Luc and the other assailant will stand until evidence firmly suggests otherwise.

 “We are watching and waiting to hear from the police investigation,” McCann said. “I don’t want to do anything that would interfere with the police investigation. Do I at this point believe I have a concern for safety? We don’t because we don’t see the knife. If there is such a thing, we don’t have supporting evidence that completely collaborates the story.”

Dave Bristow, public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said the case has been sent to the state attorney’s office for review. Deputies, he said, had taken statements from the victim and reviewed the recorded YouTube fight. His files did not indicate any deputies had interviewed the perpetrators as part of their investigation.

“It’s not going to add a whole lot to the case,” Bristow said of hearing the defendants’ sides of the story. “The video is a key piece of evidence.”

The charges filed against Luc and the other student amounts to a misdemeanor offense, which is punishable by up to one year in juvenile detention.

Panet-Raymond said he is frustrated neither he nor his child have been contacted for interviews by district officials or other authorities. McCann said the district would not do anything that could impede the police’s investigation.

Panet-Raymond also said as much as he wants Luc back at Nolan with his friends, he will not return his child there if the alleged victim is still attending.

The family of the alleged victim declined to comment.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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